More witnesses to fatality urged to help in 2001 case

January 30, 2004

By David Waite, ADVERTISER COURTS WRITER

An attorney who represents family members of woman who died in an August 2001 car crash that prosecutors have linked to illegal street racing renewed his plea yesterday for the public's help in identifying other drivers who were participating in the race.

An O`ahu grand jury on Wednesday indicted Nicholas Tudisco on a charge of manslaughter in connection with the death of Elizabeth Kekoa, 58.

Attorney Wayne Kekina said the racing drivers other than Tudisco also are legally responsible for Kekoa's death.

Kekoa died less than an hour after Tudisco's 1999 Honda Prelude slammed into the rear end of the 1994 Ford Aerostar van in which Kekoa was a passenger. The van was being driven by Kekoa's husband, Wally.

When bail was being set at $100,000 in Tudisco's case on Wednesday, a prosecutor told a judge that police said Tudisco admitted that he was racing with another car before the collision.

The prosecutor said Tudisco, 21, was traveling more than 100 mph when he lost control of his car, stuck the center medial barrier and crashed into Kekoa's van.

Kekina, the lawyer for Wally Kekoa, filed a civil lawsuit in March 2002 against Tudisco and his parents, Michael and Cynthia Tudisco, as well as unnamed drivers of the car or cars that Tudisco was racing.

Kekina said Tudisco's parents were named as defendants in the suit because the car was registered to them, they knew that Nicholas had modified the car to make it faster and that they entrusted the car to him despite his convictions of speeding in 1999 and 2000.

Kekina said he plans to proceed with a civil trial against the Tudiscos scheduled to begin May 17.

But attorney Michael Green, who represents Tudisco and his parents, said he will ask that the civil trial be postponed in light of Tudisco's indictment. That's to guard against Nicholas Tudisco saying something or others giving testimony at the civil trial that may tend to incriminate Tudisco in the criminal case.

Green said Tudisco, a student athlete at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, Calif., is scheduled to return to Hawai`i next week with his father to turn himself in.

Willie Davis, Elizabeth Kekoa's brother and a family spokesman, said Tudisco's indictment "was a long time coming," but that he and other family members are "pleased with the outcome."

The family does not believe police or the prosecutor's officer "dragged their feet" in bringing the indictment against Tudisco nearly 2­ years after the collision, Davis said.

"We just wanted to make sure the investigators covered all the details, no matter how long it took," Davis said.

Struggling to keep his composure, Wally Kekoa said he misses his wife more with each passing day.

"We would go to lunch together, I would take her to school at Holy Trinity where she (taught) every day and to church on the weekend," Kekoa said. "She was always at the church trying to help other people."

Wally Kekoa said he was married to Elizabeth for "39 years and five months - almost 40 years. I was planning to take her to Vegas and the kids to celebrate."

Davis said that every time he sees news accounts of people being killed in in traffic collisions, especially those in which speeding or racing is suspected, he can't help but think about the crash that took his sister's life.

"Basically, it takes the family right back to that August morning. I wish it doesn't happen to anyone else. It's very difficult to deal with," Davis said.

Kekina did not say how much money the family is seeking. He said the lawsuit should serve as a warning to parents that they will be held accountable for their children's actions.

Kekina asked that anyone with information about who may have been racing with Tudisco the night of the crash to call his office at 524-1433.